With so many permanent and touring exhibits in the park, one day is just not enough. Plan to return and see it all.
Balboa Park is home to a host of museums and cultural institutions that provide an enriching and encompassing look at the human experience from multiple points of views. While open all year round, February is Museum Month and a great time for special deals and extended hours. The Explorer Pass gives you access to all the museums, making your experience hassle-free. Insider tip: The Timken museum is always free!
This cultural arts center is dedicated to creating, promoting, preserving and educating about Chicano, Mexican, Indigenous and Latino art and culture. Housed in a former water tower and painted with colorful murals, Centro features rotating exhibits and performances with theater, dance, music, and film and video.
The Japanese Friendship Garden represents the connection between San Diego and its sister city Yokohama, Japan. It offers visitors a unique experience through its bonsai exhibit, a moon-viewing deck, beautiful black pine trees, azaleas and ornamental plants such as camellias, magnolia, wisteria and cherry blossom trees.
Built in 1905 for George W. Marston, who is considered the “Father of Balboa Park,” The Marston House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by renowned architects Irving Gill and William Hebbard, the home sits on five acres of landscaped English and California-influenced gardens and is a starting point for several historical walking tours.
Dedicated to furthering the understanding of art of the people (Mingei) from all eras and cultures of the world, the Mingei Museum’s permanent collection includes more than 26,000 objects from 141 countries from the 3rd century BCE to the present day. The museum collects, conserves and exhibits these arts of daily life – by unknown craftsmen of ancient times, from traditional cultures of past and present and by historical and contemporary designers. Currently, the museum is undergoing renovations and is expected to reopen in 2021.
As one of only three independent museums in the nation dedicated solely to the lens-based medium, the Museum of Photographic Arts aims to inspire, educate and engage through the innovative collection and presentation of photography film and video. Exhibitions are presented in English and Spanish with work from the museum’s archive as well as from contemporary artists. The museum also stores a permanent collection of nearly 9,000 images. The Edmund L. and Nancy Dubois Library strengthens the permanent collection with more than 24,000 items all related to photography.
With more than 100 interactive exhibits, the Fleet Science Center allows visitors of all ages to explore and investigate the wonders of science and innovation. The center is also home to the Eugene Heikoff and Marilyn Jacobs Heikoff Giant Dome Theater, providing an IMAX film adventure that shows the wonders of the planet—and beyond.
As one of only a handful of air and space museums in the country to be an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the San Diego Air & Space Museum is home to a collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft exploring the history of flight. The collection includes a flight-worthy replica of Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis,” the actual Apollo 9 Command Module, and the only real GPS satellite display in the world. View artifacts from the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Wally Schirra and other aviation and space pioneers.
Dedicated to advancing experimental, bi-national contemporary art, the San Diego Art Institute focuses on commissions of new work by artists living between Los Angeles and Tijuana, with a focus on San Diego Artists.
Featuring more than 80 historic autos and motorcycles, the San Diego Automotive Museum offers a unique look at the most prized and unique vehicles of the 20th century, including the one-of-kind Louie Mattar’s 1947 Cadillac as well as one of the finest motorcycle collections on the West Coast.
One of the oldest and largest historical organizations on the West Coast, the San Diego History Center is one of the only institutions dedicated to the heritage of a major American metropolitan region presenting dynamic, engaging exhibitions that highlights what makes San Diego unique as well as the region’s emerging role in the 21st century.
At 28,000 square feet, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is the world's largest operating model railroad museum. Dedicated to preserving the heritage of railroading, the unique museum has a series of miniature representations of California railroads, including four enormous scale and model layouts of Southwest railroads. In addition, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum features a Toy Train Gallery with an interactive Lionel layout for children and state-of-the-art theater lighting.
Housed in the historic California Building with its iconic California Tower, the Museum of Us has been educating and entertaining visitors from around the world for more than 100 years. The museum offers a variety of unique, interactive exhibits that cover a vast range of human history and culture from beer to cannibalism to monsters to secrets. In addition, the museum will soon be offering guided tours of the California Tower, where visitors can learn about the history of Balboa Park while taking in a 360-degree view of San Diego.
Explore the natural history of Southern California—from past to present—at the San Diego Natural History Museum (The NAT). From rattlesnakes and flesh-eating beetles, to dinosaurs and fossils, to a pendulum that proves the earth is spinning, there’s something for everyone at The Nat. The museum offers unique, interactive exhibitions on five different floors and features a giant-screen theater with daily showings of 2D and 3D films, as well as rotating exhibitions that bring nature to life. It even has it’s own botanically inspired escape room.
Located in the heart of Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art is known for its nationally renowned collections consisting of Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian paintings including the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection of Indian paintings, and 19th and 20th century American paintings and sculptures. The museum regularly features major exhibitions from around the world, bringing new works of art to San Diego and is known for its commitment to using technology to enhance the user experience. The museum also hosts an extensive year-round schedule of cultural and educational programs including its annual Bloom Bash, Culture & Cocktails, Film in the Garden and Art After Hours.
Affectionately called San Diego’s jewel box of fine art, the Timken Museum of Art is home to the Putnam Foundation’s globally important collection of European old masters, 19th century American art and Russian icons. Artists represented include Rubens, Fragonard, Bierstadt, Pieter Bruegel the elder, John Singleton Copley and Eastman Johnson and also includes the only Rembrandt painting on public display in San Diego. This museum offers free admission and provides visitors with an accessible and enriching cultural experience.
Dedicated to showcasing the history of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine and honoring those who have served, the Veterans Museum & Memorial Center is a civic institution that offers permanent, rotating and visiting exhibits of patriotic, military and war-related memorabilia, artifacts, photographs and other artwork.
Housed in a colorfully painted former water tower, WorldBeat Center opened in Balboa Park in 1996. The Center is dedicated to promoting and preserving African, African-American and other indigenous cultures of the world through art, music, dance, education and technology. Classes in international dance and drumming are offered year-round, along with concerts and lectures.
In addition, a new Comic-Con Museum is scheduled to open in the former Hall of Champions sometime in 2021, which will add a fresh, new perspective into pop culture and San Diego’s place in it.
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